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Hydrology, watersheds, sedimentation

Science Spotlights

An example of riparian areas assessed by this project. This photograph shows Bear Valley Creek on the Salmon-Challis National Forest with a shallow gradient and wide valley bottom meandering through depositional material. Photo by D.M. Smith, USFS.
Riparian zones – boundaries between land and rivers or streams – are often overlooked, but are critical for the healthy function of watersheds and ecosystems. The Rocky Mountain Research Station has worked with the USDA Forest Service Intermountain Region to develop targeted maps and assessments of riparian zones in several National Forests that will inform future management and planning efforts. 
A photo of snow melt turning into a stream within a densely forested mountain landscape
In coniferous western forests, recent widespread tree mortality provided opportunities to test the long-held theory that forest cover loss increases water yield. Collective results indicate that post-disturbance streamflow and snowpack may increase, stay the same, or even decrease. This post-disturbance hydrologic response depends on vegetation structure, climate, and topography.  New hypotheses continue to be formulated and tested in this...
The riparian vegetation along the upper Gila River in southwestern New Mexico has high richness of woody plants and extremely high densities of nesting birds including the Federally endangered and threatened species
Rivers and streams of the American Southwest have been heavily altered by human activity, resulting in significant changes to disturbance regimes. Riparian vegetation in aridland floodplain systems is critically important as foraging, migrating, and breeding habitat to birds and other animal species. To conserve riparian ecosystems and organisms, understanding how plants and animals are affected by disturbance processes and multiple stressors is...
Image mosaic of the Clark Fork River during the falling limb of the hydrograph on July 2, 2014.
We used aerial imagery to identify, map, and measure the area of aquatic and terrestrial floodplain habitats during a seasonal flooding disturbance. Understanding links between landscape pattern and changing discharge during a typical bankfull flood provides insight into the annual flux and spatial change in habitats, as well as the long-term structure and function of floodplains.
An analysis of seventeen years of eddy covariance data using a Bayesian statistical model based on the two-source energy and canopy snow mass balance showed a decrease in sublimation in a subalpine forest following a spruce beetle outbreak.
Snow sublimation is a major component of the annual water budget across the Front Range where recent bark beetle outbreaks have dramatically changed the forest canopy structure. A seventeen year study at the Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiments Site (GLEES) in Wyoming revealed that sublimation decreased following a spruce beetle outbreak due to reduced canopy intercepted snowfall.
Watershed following the Las Conchas Fire on the Santa Fe National Forest. Credit goes to: Anna Jaramillo-Scarborough
Wildfires, an important natural disturbance in southwestern ecosystems, can present challenges to resource managers, communities, and private landowners when they burn areas subject to post-fire flooding and erosion. Many government agencies and research institutions have developed science and management tools for estimating post-fire effects and mitigating risks in burned landscapes. We assessed the utility of currently available tools and...
Sampling streamwater in watersheds of the Hayman Fire
Severe wildfires remove vegetation and organic soil layers and expose watersheds to erosion which can transport large quantities of soil and ash to nearby rivers and streams. But once the burned areas have stabilized, do severe wildfires have any longer-lasting effects on watersheds or water quality? This study follows the Hayman Fire, 2002, Colorado, and shows that yes, there are long-term effects.
Effective conservation and management decisions for habitats require information about the distribution of multiple species but such data is expensive to obtain; this often limits data collection to just a few, high-profile species. Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling can be more sensitive, and less expensive, than traditional sampling for aquatic species, and a single sample potentially contains DNA from all species present in a waterbody. Cost-...
The global composite index of the wildfire-water risk shows spatial distribution of risk from wildfire impacts on water resources. About half of the area globally (51%) is at moderate risk (values between 20 and 40).
Freshwater resources are vital to humans and our natural environment. Water systems around the world are at risk resulting from population growth, urban development, ecosystem degradation, climate change, and over the past several years, from large catastrophic wildfires. Scientists developed the first global evaluation of wildfire risks to water security bringing us a step closer to a global database that maps key wildfire-water risk indicators...
View of the National Forest climate change maps website.
The National Forest Climate Change Maps project was developed to meet the need of National Forest managers for information on projected climate changes at a scale relevant to decision making processes, including Forest Plans. The maps use state-of-the-art science and are available for every National Forest in the contiguous United States with relevant data coverage. Currently, the map sets include variables related to precipitation, air...